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Leaders discuss shared issues at first African Maritime Forces Summit

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Maritime leaders from 31 Africans coastal countries including The Gambia gathered in Cabo Verde in late March to discuss collaborative strategies to tackle sea crime during the first-ever African Maritime Forces Summit.

Expected to become an annual conference, the summit involved the senior-most maritime leadership from around the continent, as well as Europe, North America and South America. Cabo Verde, in partnership with US Naval Forces Europe and Africa, hosted the three-day summit.

During the summit, leaders discussed an array of maritime security issues, including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing — which costs the continent close to an estimated $11.5 billion — piracy, oil theft, drug smuggling, and human and weapons trafficking.

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Cabo Verde’s Prime Minister Ulisses Correia Silva said that successfully confronting those crimes is imperative for the continent’s economic development, peace and stability.

“These are onslaughts, risks and threats from the criminal world that must be fought and overcome permanently with strong and engaged institutions at the level of each country and strong partnerships at the level of the common interests of cooperative security,” Correia e Silva said. “Partnership for defense and security is as important as partnership for development. It is, in fact, a condition for development,” Silva said.

Throughout the summit, leaders discussed ways to strengthen law enforcement and the roles of naval infantry and collaboration on initiatives within African waters including the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

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During a visit to the USS Bulkeley, a guided-missile destroyer, naval leaders and young Cabo Verdean students observed firefighting demonstrations, joint US Coast Guard and Cabo Verdean boarding drills, and simulated bomb-disposal robotics conducted by US Marines.

Besides Cabo Verde, participating African nations included Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo and Tunisia.

“It takes all of us working together to tackle the types of challenges we are here to discuss,” said Carlos Del Toro, secretary of the US Navy. “And as the Kenyan proverb goes, ‘Having a good discussion is like having riches.’ Together, in this type of atmosphere, we build an environment anchored in trust and mutual respect.”

At the end of the summit, Cabo Verdean Chief of Defense Rear Admiral António Duarte Monteiro emphasized the importance of cooperation among regional and international partners.

“Threats to maritime security do not respect political boundaries and there is very little that an individual state can do alone,” Monteiro said. “The need to cooperate with others is fundamental to the very concept of increased maritime security and sustainable development of the blue economy. Cooperation with other states in security, law enforcement and the protection of the environment should not be viewed as a derogation of sovereignty, but rather as a multiplication of the effectiveness of our sovereignty.”

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